The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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Plan, Worry, Kill
Thursday, April 18, 2019 -- This is a weekend for reflection and faith so I think it's time for a round of Plan, Worry, Kill, the business travel equivalent of Kiss, Marry, Kill (or, you know, other words).

Seriously, think about this stuff. It's important.

PLAN: END-OF-THE-YEAR AWARD TRAVEL
Last week's discussion of the rapidly declining value of frequent flyer miles is surely long-term motivation to rethink your strategies. But let me give you a shorter-term incentive: There are "good" deals around for end-of-the-year award travel if you act now. Right now. There seems to be plenty of availability at comparatively good award rates. By Memorial Day, as I detailed last year, those deals may be gone. So if you want to spend your Christmas/New Year holiday somewhere exotic at reasonable rates, make arrangements this weekend or early next week.

WORRY: CONTINUING BOEING 737MAX CANCELLATIONS
"Experts" are waving away fear of summer problems by noting that the grounded Boeing 737MAX series aircraft represent only about 2.3 percent of U.S. capacity. That not only ignores the impact on Air Canada and WestJet--the Canadian carriers have substantial 737MAX fleets--but doesn't account for this reality: The U.S. MAX operators--American, Southwest and United--and the Canadian airlines have a large number of new MAX8s and MAX9s due for delivery throughout 2019. In many cases, those aircraft were expected to replace aging planes that were at or beyond their reasonable lifespan. With all five carriers having to scrounge for older aircraft to keep schedules intact, there will be more mechanical-related delays and cancellations. The longer the MAX planes are grounded--U.S. and Canadian carriers pretty much assume the aircraft won't be approved by regulators until late summer or early fall--the less reliable their schedules will be.

KILL: REAL ID AND TSA'S CLAIM ABOUT DRIVERS LICENSES
For reasons known only to the bureaucrats, the TSA is once again raising the boogeyman of rejecting drivers licenses due to the REAL ID law. Remember the REAL ID Act? It was passed in 2005 and meant, in part, to bring state drivers licenses up to federal standards of identification. The TSA has threatened to reject non-REAL ID-compliant licenses for more than five years--only to back off again and again and again. Its new deadline is October, 2020. Forty states already issue REAL ID compliant licenses. The others have extensions. The chances of TSA ever getting into a firefight with the states over their drivers licenses? Zero.

PLAN: ISTANBUL'S HUGE NEW AIRPORT IS UP AND RUNNING
Istanbul's Ataturk Airport has been closed and replaced by, um, New Istanbul Airport. Want to know how huge and how complicated New Istanbul Airport is? Just one fact: Some gates are at least an 18-minute walk from the check-in/bag-drop areas. Although it is now handling traffic, the airport is hardly fully functional. (Some video on the colossus is here and here.) Don't assume all retail and food and beverage options are open. There's only one hotel (a Yotel) and no independent or Priority Pass-aligned departure or arrivals lounges. Things certainly should improve in the months ahead, but proceed with caution and do plenty of planning for alternative options.

WORRY: AIRLINES CONTINUE TO UPCHARGE LOYAL TRAVELERS
About seven years ago, Delta Air Lines was caught overcharging travelers logged into their Delta SkyMiles accounts. Delta continues to deny the tactic exists, but it keeps happening. This from a JoeSentMe member: "Shopping this week for a May weekend trip to Washington. ... Found fares were running in the $450-$500 range. When I checked in the evening, prices were $1,400 and up. I then tried deleting all my Delta cookies in my browser ... and I was able to purchase the itinerary for about $450. ... Ironically, if they weren't so damn greedy, if they simply increased fares by $50 or $75, I would have paid the higher fare rather than delving into the world of cookies." The lesson: Never look for airfares when you are logged into an airline site. Find the fares, log in and book after.

KILL: TRAVEL TO CUBA
For reasons known only to Trump Administration poohbahs, yesterday the government announced a new round of travel restrictions on Cuba. Unsurprisingly, there are still no guidance or official changes on relevant government Web sites. In other words, who knows what they are talking about. That said, what are you worried about? You weren't going to Cuba anyway. It's surprising that U.S. carriers can still justify flying any routes between the United States and Cuba.

PLAN: TRAVEL TO AFRICA IS NEVER EASY
It's never easy to get to Africa, so here's a bit of good news: United Airlines announced this week that it would fly nonstop from its Newark hub to Cape Town, South Africa. It's not much service, though, three weekly flights between December 15 and the end of next March. If it goes well, however, there could be more flights in future flying seasons. Of course, United's commitment is always to be questioned. It never launched a Washington/Dulles-Johannesburg route it promised to operate 25 years ago and its two previous Africa routes (to Accra, Ghana, and Lagos, Nigeria) were short-lived earlier this decade. And there's more distressing news on the Africa front: Iberia is dumping its three-weekly Madrid-Johannesburg runs at the end of the summer. That means fewer Oneworld links and even fewer award opportunities.

WORRY: AIRLINES LIMITING SEAT RECLINE
Delta Air Lines has confirmed that it is reducing the seat recline on its A320 aircraft. The recline is currently 5.4 inches in first class. It will drop to 3.5 inches. Coach and Comfort+ seats will drop to 2 inches from four. Having reduced seat pitch about as far as passengers will stomach, the airlines are now chopping away at recline, too. The seats on Spirit Airlines and Allegiant don't recline at all. It is inevitable that Delta will start reducing recline on other aircraft. And what Delta does, so do American and United.

KILL: JETBLUE PLANS TO FLY TO LONDON, SOMEWHERE, SOME DAY
JetBlue Airways wants you to know it will, finally, launch flights to London. But its "announcement" last week not only refused to name a start date save for the amorphous "in 2021," it also didn't even name a London airport. In other words, much ado about nothing. Who cares what some airline says it'll do two years from now? They can't be trusted two weeks from now.

This column is Copyright 2019 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2019 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.